THE $60 million Egodini terminus upgrade project hangs in the balance amid allegations the ruling Zanu PF party has hijacked it for political reasons.
BY MTHANDAZO NYONI
Last year, Bulawayo City Council (BCC) awarded South African civil engineering firm, Terracotta, a contract to develop a transport hub and shopping mall at Basch Street Terminus, popularly known as Egodini.
The project, valued at $60 million, is on a build, operate and transfer basis and will come at no cost to council, officials say. Bulawayo will ultimately own it once Terracotta has recouped its investment.
The refurbishment is expected to see the terminus handling at least three million travellers per month, according to the BCC.
As part of the redesign of the terminus area, BCC would expand existing roads into the site and create dedicated pedestrian routes to increase traffic access.
The site will include a transport hub located on the Basch Street ground level, retail sections and parking bays.
However, after the signing of the agreement last year, squabbles over the project began and have stalled the project.
Recently, Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere dispatched the permanent secretary in his ministry, George Mlilo and Bulawayo Provincial Affairs minister Eunice Nomthandazo Moyo, to meet the MDC-T-run council officials where they threatened to cancel the project and order a re-tender.
This followed allegations that some senior council officials, particularly deputy mayor Gift Banda, were linked to the South African civil engineering firm Terraccotta Private Limited, which won the tender. However, Banda has since refuted the allegations.
In an interview with Standardbusiness last week, Bulawayo mayor Martin Moyo defended the project, saying it was done transparently.
He said the council was looking for investment, not a contractor.
“As was explained at that tumultuous meeting, the advert for expression of interest to develop Egodini was flighted in 2010.
Three companies expressed interest to partner the city to develop Egodini. Terracotta was chosen. Why Terracotta and why a foreign company? We were looking for someone with money. Which local company can raise $60 million? We were not looking for a contractor. We were looking for an investor,” he said.
“It is not like we were not doing anything between 2010 and the signing of the contract in 2015. The negotiations were protracted. We wanted to secure a good deal for council. Surely, there are no timelines when it comes to negotiations. The suggestion to reverse that investment is most dismaying. Bulawayo needs life. It’s a $60 million project with a potential to create more than 1 000 jobs,” Moyo said.
Moyo said council was not the employer and councillors did not work for Terracotta and so did not go to them looking for a job.
“Terracotta is the contractor and they will employ when they come. Should they want assistance from council, they will say so, then we can help. For now, no such assistance has been requested,” he said.
Analysts told Standardbusiness last week that there was nothing anomalous about the project but it was a victim of power politics between Zanu PF and MDC-T.
MDC-T runs urban councils and their decisions are sometimes overturned by the Local Government ministry for political reasons.
“It could be politics at play and we can’t afford to compromise that investment, which is meant for economic development of the city because of politics. Let’s put aside politics and let development take place. It’s a worry to us really,” political analyst Dumisani Nkomo said.
Nkomo said Bulawayo needed massive investment and politicians should learn to put development ahead of everything.
Bulawayo — once Zimbabwe’s industrial hub — is desperately in need of investment. More than 100 companies have shut down or moved out of the city in the past few years due to de-industrilisation. There are also political allegations that Bulawayo has over the years been deliberately marginalised by government.
According to party insiders, Zanu PF intends to use the project to woo supporters ahead of the 2018 harmonised elections.
“The project has been hijacked for political reasons. The party fears that MDC will use it to gain political mileage ahead of the 2018 harmonised elections,” said the insider.
But Affirmative Action Group (AAG) Bulawayo chapter president Reginald Shoko said even though there was politics at play, BCC officials should have come out clean on the project, especially on why it took more than five years for it to be signed.
“As AAG, we welcome investment in Bulawayo but things must follow procedure. The Local Government ministry seems to be in the dark concerning the project. Why is that?” Shoko asked.
“We never know, maybe that is the reason why Zanu PF is making noise. Is it because they know that only MDC-T supporters are going to be employed? The council should have come out clean on the project to avoid political tension.”
Shoko said there were also some questions on why the council gave Terracotta a 99-year lease.
Zanu PF’s move to throw spanners in the project has been condemned by youths in the city.
The Education and Unemployed Youth Forum of Zimbabwe Trust recently challenged government’s attempts to derail the project, saying such a move was heartless as the project was going to change a number of lives in the country’s second largest city.
The group said it was time Zanu PF behaved like a governing party which was elected by the people to represent their interests and not selfish ends.
It also questioned why it took so long for government to generate interest in the project, yet the tender process had been publicised on several occasions since 2012.